See You Never: The Rise of “Ghosting” in the Workplace
January 9, 2020 Read Time: 4 minutes
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Author: Heather Nellis, Paralegal

Perhaps you’ve been on a date recently that you thought went well, only for days and weeks to trickle by without ever hearing from the person as promised.

Job seekers are often applying for several positions, and then focussing their subsequent efforts on only their top choices.

Maybe you’re reached out to them, and your calls and text messages are repeatedly going unanswered. If this hasn’t happened to you personally, it has probably happened to a friend or colleague; maybe even you have been the one to disappear.

What started with the rise of online dating, the social phenomenon known as “ghosting” has begun to seep from our personal lives into our professional lives. More and more frequently, employees appear to be ghosting their existing or potential employers by failing to reply to telephone calls or e-mails, not attending interviews, or no longer showing up for work without any explanation. But what could possibly explain this bizarre trend? And as the line between our personal and professional lives continues to blur, can we really be surprised by this development?

Some may say that employers have been ghosting their employees for decades. It’s not uncommon to apply for a job and never hear back. Many, if not most, job applications these days are completed online. You may receive an autoreply acknowledging receipt of your application, but there’s a good chance that’s the only communication you’ll receive at all. Many of these automated replies clearly state that only successful candidates will be contacted for an interview. It’s right there in black and white – don’t call us, we’ll call you. While it doesn’t feel great for the job seekers, it’s understandable when hundreds of applications are received for one vacancy.

But what about when the tables are turned, and the employee is the one doing the disappearing act? The unemployment rate in Canada has been steadily dropping over that last few years. Employees who have more options also have more bargaining power when it comes to the positions they do want to pursue.  Like an employer receives hundreds of resumes for only one job posting, job seekers are often applying for several positions, and then focussing their subsequent efforts on only their top choices.

Regardless of whether it’s been going on for years, the perpetuation of this bad behaviour isn’t justified, by employers or employees.

Like the disappearing date, maybe job hunters who ‘ghost’ are merely trying to avoid an uncomfortable or awkward conversation. After all, they will get the message eventually, right?

Online job searches and recruitment efforts have certainly simplified and streamlined the process and increased our ability to successfully search for work; however, it’s also reduced the ‘human’ aspect. As anyone who’s been dating recently will tell you, it’s much easier to walk away from an online connection, as opposed to rejecting someone face-to-face or even over the phone.

If you are an employee who is considering “ghosting” an employer or recruiter, here are a few reasons why it’s not in your best interests to do so:

  • It’s unprofessional. It’s true that stepping away very early on in an interview process may go unnoticed; however, the further along you are, and the more narrow the field has become, the more likely it is that your sudden disappearance will be noticed, and probably not easily forgotten. As mentioned above, employers and people talk and even, or especially, in this digital age, a person’s reputation is important. Ottawa is a small city; you never know who knows whom, or what they’re talking about. There’s a good chance that if you ghost someone, they’ll be talking about you.
  • Even if you live and work in a larger city, technology makes the world small, and depending on the industry in which you work, it can feel even smaller. Don’t let one lapse in judgment affect your professional reputation.

Instead of ghosting, it takes only a minute to make that phone call or send a quick e-mail to say thank you and let them know that you’ve decided to pursue another opportunity. You may even consider offering some constructive feedback on the recruitment and job interview process. If you’re not accepting the offer anyway, or planning to resign from your current role, what have you got to lose? Employers invest a significant amount of time and resources into the recruitment process, and if it’s flawed in some way, most would appreciate knowing so that it can be corrected or improved upon.

You could also approach your employer, human resources department, or union representative, to discuss reasonable requests for modifications or accommodations. Like the recruitment process, it can be costly to train employees, especially for small businesses. Give them a chance to make things right before walking away.

If you’re an employer who’s experienced this new phenomenon firsthand, what can you do about it? You may consider changes to your recruitment process, or the ways in which you evaluate prospective employees. Reinstating or revamping your policy on conducting exit interviews may also be helpful. This can be a valuable opportunity for employees to provide honest and candid feedback.

If you have questions about how to appropriately resign from your current role, or any other issues related to your employment, contact our Employment Law Group.

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2020 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

Service: Employment Law

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